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Newsline - April 1, 1998




DUMA WANTS YELTSIN TO PRESENT KIRIENKO'S CANDIDACY IN PERSON

The State Duma on 1 April invited President Boris Yeltsin to come to the parliament rather than sending a subordinate to present his nominee for prime minister, Sergei Kirienko, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Duma deputies also passed a resolution calling for Yeltsin to convene roundtable talks to discuss new cabinet appointments and government policies. An early draft of the resolution asked Yeltsin to withdraw his nomination of Kirienko, but that demand was dropped from the final version. According to ITAR-TASS, the Federation Council on 1 April also urged Yeltsin to call roundtable talks. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced that on 2 April, Yeltsin will meet with State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, and acting Prime Minister Kirienko. Seleznev told journalists that proposals on roundtable talks will be discussed at the meeting of the "big four." LB

KIRIENKO REJECTS CONCESSIONS TO DUMA...

Kirienko on 1 April ruled out offering concessions to the Duma to ensure his confirmation as prime minister, ITAR-TASS reported. He said his consultations with Duma deputies have been useful but added that he is interested in working out a "good economic program" and will not be drawn into political bargaining. Kirienko met with members of the Communist, Agrarian and Popular Power factions on 31 March and deputies from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia the following day. Later on 1 April, he is to meet with members of the Yabloko and Russian Regions factions. LB

...DISMISSES ALLEGED LINK TO SCIENTOLOGISTS

Kirienko has dismissed reports that he has ties to the Church of Scientology, saying the "rumors" are "rubbish which does not deserve comment," Interfax reported on 1 April. He suggested that the story may be an April Fool's joke. The German daily "Berliner Zeitung" reported on 31 March that three years ago, when Kirienko was head of the Garantiya bank, he attended a week-long seminar offered by the Scientologists' Hubbard College in Nizhnii Novgorod. The paper quoted an acquaintance of Kirienko's as saying that Kirienko subsequently advised other officials at his bank to attend similar seminars. Aleksandr Dvorkin, a specialist on religious sects for the Russian Orthodox Church, on 31 March called on Kirienko to respond to the allegations. Dvorkin charged that the Church of Scientology gains immense leverage over its members, who must tell representatives of the sect "the most intimate details" of their lives. LB

YELTSIN SAYS TIME HAS COME FOR 'NEW GENERATION'

Yeltsin says the new cabinet will contain "many young, talented people who do not carry the burden of having worked in the communist and post-communist period." In an interview published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 1 April, Yeltsin declined to name specific appointments but said "the time has come" for "new leaders, young men with brains, with good education, with common sense." Asked why he fired the government, Yeltsin said economic indicators over the last several months "gave reason to be horrified. And then there was the situation with falling world prices for oil...Completely new methods should operate here. And that means new people." Yeltsin claimed that former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais himself requested to leave the government. He also refrained from criticizing former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, although he said that in his opinion, Chernomyrdin decided "a bit early" to run for president. LB

CHUBAIS SEEN LIKELY TO WORK IN ELECTRICITY GIANT...

Yeltsin told the 1 April edition of "Komsomolskaya pravda" that having left the government, Chubais "will help correct the situation" in the electricity monopoly Unified Energy System (EES). Kirienko recently ruled out Chubais's candidacy for the post of EES board chairman, but here has been widespread speculation that Chubais may replace Boris Brevnov as EES chief executive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 1998). Anatolii Dyakov, the current chairman of the EES board, told ITAR-TASS on 31 March that Chubais has good chances to become the company's chief executive. Meanwhile, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 31 March that Yevgenii Yasin, who has been minister without portfolio since March 1997, is the most likely candidate to replace Dyakov as chairman of the EES board. LB

...AS SOME MEDIA SAY HE'S NOT FIT FOR THE JOB

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 March charged that Chubais has no experience in managing state property and that his expertise in the electricity sector is comparable to "knowing how to change a light bulb." The newspaper argued that Chubais wants a top job at EES for political reasons and is hoping to use the company's resources to build up a war chest for the next parliamentary and presidential elections. Russian Public Television commentator Sergei Dorenko warned on 28 March that the whole country "will pay" if Chubais is appointed to run EES. Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group is the main financial backer of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," and Berezovskii is believed to influence editorial policy at Russian Public Television. LB

CHERNOMYRDIN NOT TO RUN FOR PARLIAMENT

At a 31 March meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Our Home Is Russia Duma faction decided that it would not be "expedient" for Chernomyrdin to take up a seat in the Duma, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. By-elections are periodically held to fill the seats of Duma deputies who have died or taken jobs in the government, and some Our Home Is Russia members called for Chernomyrdin to compete in such a by-election. But Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the faction, said it was decided that Chernomyrdin should concentrate on strengthening Our Home Is Russia's organization. Meanwhile, government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov on 31 March said there are "serious doubts" that Chernomyrdin will return to work at Gazprom. Chernomyrdin was the gas monopoly's chief executive before joining the government in December 1992. LB

ENERGY MINISTERS MEET IN MOSCOW

Opening the meeting of energy ministers from the leading industrial nations in Moscow on 1 April, acting Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko called for a integrated energy system and energy export network in Europe, ITAR-TASS reported. Kirienko noted that "the fuel and energy sector is one of the foundations of the Russian economy" and said the Russian government encourages and will support foreign capital invested in this sector. He also urged the "expansion of mutually beneficial international cooperation in developing fuel and energy resources, improving the effectiveness of their use, and expansion of their markets." BP

NEMTSOV: U.S. FLEXIBLE ON OIL ROUTES

Following his meeting with U.S. Secretary of Energy Federico Pena in Moscow on 31 March, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said the U.S. is ready to accept any route for exporting Azerbaijani oil to international markets--whether it be the Baku-Ceyhan or the Caspian Pipeline Consortium's Baku-Novorossiisk route, Interfax reported. Nemtsov said this is now official U.S. policy and Pena "is ready to confirm it." BP

YELTSIN REASSURES GREEK DEFENSE MINISTER

Yeltsin on 31 March surprised observers when he met behind closed doors with visiting Greek Defense Minister Apostolos Tsokhatzopoulos. Russian media reported that the president reassured the Greek minister that the delivery of Russian SS-300 missiles to Cyprus will go ahead as scheduled. Yeltsin and Tsokhatzopoulos also discussed the situation in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq, according to Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii. Both men support free navigation of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits. Yastrzhembskii described Yeltsin's decision to meet with the Greek defense minister as a rather "rare event in the Kremlin's practice." He added that the meeting is designed to emphasize "the special prospects for Russian-Greek military cooperation." BP

CHECHENS, RUSSIANS DISAGREE OVER PEACE TALKS

Acting Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev said on 31 March that there is no sense in continuing talks with Russia because Moscow has not been willing to fulfill its promises, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the Chechen Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing Moscow of violating the human rights of Chechens travelling in the Russian Federation. But Russia's acting Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin said on 30 March that he favors "resolving the Chechen problem by non-violent means alone," Interfax reported. Previously, Stepashin had been one of the most active advocates of the use of force against the Chechen independence movement. PG

DUBININ SAYS DEVALUATION SHOULD MATCH INFLATION

Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin has advocated a policy to devalue the ruble in line with the inflation rate in order to help Russian exporters, the "Financial Times" reported in 1 April. The paper quoted Dubinin as saying that "the decline of the ruble against the dollar is proceeding more slowly than inflation," and that the Central Bank is seeking to accelerate the ruble's decline. In late 1997 and early 1998, the Central Bank hiked its refinancing rate in order to prevent a sharp devaluation of the ruble. The ruble is allowed to float within a band from 5.25 to 7.15 rubles to the U.S. dollar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1997). It currently trades at roughly 6.1 rubles to the dollar. The Russian government has projected an annual inflation rate of 5-7 percent for 1998. LB

GOVERNMENT STANDS FIRM ON ROSNEFT PRICE

State Property Minister Farit Gazizullin and First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov on 31 March said the government will not lower the starting price of some $2.1 billion for a stake of 75 percent plus one share in the Rosneft oil company, Russian news agencies reported. In recent days, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, head of the Yuksi oil company, and Rem Vyakhirev, head of the gas monopoly Gazprom, have argued that the government overvalued the Rosneft stake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 March 1998). But Gazizullin expressed confidence that the auction will go ahead and that the starting price will not scare off investors. Nemtsov said he understands why potential bidders are "reluctant to part with their money," but warned that "Bargaining will not work. We cannot give away the company." Bids for the Rosneft stake will be accepted through 26 May. LB

GAS PRICES HIKED FOR CONSUMERS, REDUCED FOR SOME INDUSTRY

In line with a decision of the Federal Energy Commission, wholesale prices for gas to be sold to individual consumers have been raised by 15 percent as of 1 April, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 March. However, the newspaper said that retail gas prices for consumers, which are set by regional authorities, are likely to rise only marginally. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov announced on 31 March that some industrial consumers will pay 10-15 percent less for gas as of 1 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Gazprom head Vyakhirev told the news agency that the reduction applies primarily to power plants, but price cuts for other industries are being considered. Individuals in Russia have long paid far lower gas rates than have industrial consumers, and the latest rate changes are part of the government's policy to correct that imbalance. LB

RUSSIA, NAMIBIA SIGN AGREEMENT ON DIAMONDS

Yeltsin and Namibian President Sam Nujoma on 31 March signed an agreement on cooperation in diamond mining, AFP and Russian news agencies reported. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhebmskii said that in light of the strong position of the diamond monopoly De Beers in southern Africa, Namibia "is interested in diversifying cooperation in this sphere." Yastrzhembskii added that Moscow shares that goal, since Russia "controls a significant segment of world diamond extraction." Russia and De Beers signed an agreement on diamond sales last October following months of difficult talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1997). LB

RUSSIA, EU AGREE TO LIFT QUOTAS ON CARPETS

A spokesman for the European Commission announced on 30 March that the European Union and Russia have reached a new agreement on textiles trade, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement, which follows three years of talks and takes effect on 1 May, calls for both Russia and the EU to lift their quotas on carpet imports. In March, Russia imposed quotas on imports of European carpets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998). The agreement also stipulates that Moscow will simplify its procedure for certifying EU carpets to be sold in Russia. EU exports of carpets to Russia amount to more than $200 million annually, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. LB

ELECTORAL COMMISSION ANNULS MAYORAL ELECTION IN NIZHNII

The Nizhnii Novgorod Electoral Commission on 1 April annulled the results of the 29 March mayoral election, RFE/RL's correspondent in the city reported. Andrei Klimentev, who has served two prison terms and is currently under investigation, won that election by a narrow margin after candidates backed by the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast administration and First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov split the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 1998). The commission charged that representatives of all candidates violated the electoral law during the mayoral campaign. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii announced on 1 April that Yeltsin has sent Yevgenii Savostyanov, deputy head of the presidential administration, to Nizhnii Novgorod to examine the circumstances surrounding the mayoral election, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Savostyanov has already charged that Klimentev's campaign committed "crude violations" of the electoral law, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported. LB




KOCHARYAN WINS ARMENIAN PRESIDENCY

With more than 95 percent of the vote counted, acting President and Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan has received 59.7 percent of the vote and has thus defeated his challenger, Soviet-era communist party chief Karen Demirchyan, who received only 40.3 percent, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 1 April. Turnout was some 50 percent. International election monitors said the election was generally fair and free. OSCE observers said that "shortcomings" in the vote were not sufficient to invalidate the outcome. The European Institute for the Media said it was largely satisfied with how the Armenian media had behaved during the campaign. Meanwhile, Moscow's "Izvestiya" newspaper on 1 April commented that Kocharyan's promise to allow young Armenians who had fled the country to avoid the draft to return home safely helped him win the election. PG

GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES KILL ALLEGED HOSTAGE-TAKER

Georgian law enforcement agencies have killed Gocha Esebua in the Zugdidi region, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 April. Esebua, who was accused of kidnaping four UN military observers as hostages and of participating in the assasination attempt against President Eduard Shevardnadze, refused to surrender and was shot after he opened fire. Three of his accomplices surrendered and are now in custody. Also on 31 March, some 1,000 supporters of former Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia demonstrated against Shevardnadze in Tbilisi. PG

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT UNABLE TO ATTEND RESCHEDULED CIS SUMMIT

Askar Akayev's office said on 31 March that the president will not attend the CIS summit rescheduled for late April, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Akayev's press secretary, Kanybek Imanaliev, said the reason is that Akayev has been planning for one year to visit China from 26-30 April. BP

KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER IN JANATAS

Nurlan Balgimbayev traveled to Janatas, Jambyl Oblast, on 1 April to examine the situation in that city, where workers have been staging strikes and demonstrations for some six months over unpaid wages, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Balgimbayev met the previous day with the Jambyl Oblast governor and head of the Kazfosfor joint stock company, where many of the strikers and demonstrators are employed. Some 500 strikers set out on foot from Janatas to Taraz on 29 March to demand the payment of wage arrears, which in some cases go back two years. BP




UKRAINE'S COMMUNISTS EMERGE AS ELECTION WINNERS

The Communist Party of Ukraine and its left-wing allies will form the biggest bloc in the new parliament, AFP reported on 1 April. The Supreme Council is to consist of 225 deputies with party-list mandates and another 225 with single mandates. With 99 percent of the vote for party-list mandates counted, the Communists won 84 seats, the Socialist/Peasants' Bloc 29, and the Progressive Socialist Party 14. Following the count of 83.5 percent of ballots for single-mandate seats, the Communists had gained 37 seats and the other left-wing parties 10, according to the Central Electoral Commission. JM

OTHER ELECTION RESULTS

The nationalist Rukh party won 32 party-list mandates, the Greens 19, the Popular Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko, 17, the Hromada party, headed by former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, 16, and the United Social Democrats, led by former President Leonid Kravchuk, 14. Independent candidates took 114 single-mandate seats in the legislature. The Central Electoral Commission reported that turnout was 69.6 percent. JM

KUCHMA VOWS TO CONTINUE REFORMS DESPITE COMMUNIST VICTORY

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has pledged to continue with the country's reform program, despite large gains by the Communists and their left-wing allies, AFP reported on 31 March. He commented that "despite the election results there will be no going back. Ukraine will pursue its reformist policy while cooperating with the parliament." But he also admitted that the results would be "a cold shower for some politicians." JM

ESTONIA'S COALITION PARTY CONTINUES TO LOOK FOR PARTNERS

The Coalition Party is to continue talks with the Reform Party over extending the ruling coalition, despite the fact that the Rural Union--the junior member of the coalition--opposes the inclusion of the Reformists, ETA reported on 1 April. "Just as the Rural Union cannot give up a social market economy, so the Reform Party cannot abandon a liberal market economy," Rural Union Chairman Arvo Sirendi told BNS. The Pensioners and the Families Party, which is also a member of the coalition, has likewise rejected including the Reformists. Prime Minister Mart Siimann said on 31 March that if the Reform Party does not accept the invitation to join the minority government, he will call early elections. The Reform Party left the Coalition Party-led government at the end of 1996 over a cooperation agreement that the Coalition Party concluded with the Center Party. JC

LATVIAN PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT ON WAFFEN SS VETERANS PARADE

Guntis Ulmanis on 31 March issued a statement seeking to quell criticism over the parade in Riga earlier this month by veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998), BNS and Reuters reported. The legion was part of Latvia's "tragic past," Ulmanis said, adding that international society cannot be reproached for not being informed about "details of our history" and for not understanding "the complicated situation at that time in Latvia." But the president strongly criticized "senior officials" who attended the rally and other commemorative events. "Independent Latvia has no links with totalitarian occupying regimes, so the president believes the participation of [those] senior officals...contradicts Latvia's chosen path of forming a democratic European state." No government officals took part in the parade, but army commander Juris Dalbins and parliamentary speaker Alfreds Cepanis did. JC

CZECH REPUBLIC ADMITS PROBLEMS ADJUSTING TO EU STANDARDS

Czech Foreign Minister Jaroslav Sedivy acknowledged on 31 March that his country will need extra time to meet some EU standards, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. Sedivy, who is attending EU accession talks, said the Czech Republic needs a period of two to five years to upgrade environmental, transport, and agricultural sectors to EU levels. Sedivy added that the Czech Republic would tighten its eastern frontier when it joins the EU. PB

CZECH PRESIDENT MEETS WITH DISSIDENTS

Vaclav Havel addressed some 1,000 former political prisoners in Prague on 31 March, CTK reported. He told the dissidents that they should always speak about their sufferings under the Communists so that the following generations do not take freedom for granted. Stanislav Drobny, the chairman of the Confederation of Political Prisoners, praised the speech but said more should be done by the state to bring former Communist repressors to justice. Havel, a former dissident himself, was criticized by some for not attending a reunion of former political prisoners last month. The president had cited health reasons for his absence. PB

RATING AGENCY LOWERS SLOVAKIA'S GRADE

Moody's Investors Service said on 31 March that it has lowered its rating for Slovakia from level Baa3 to Ba1, TASR reported. The reduction lowers the evaluation of all Slovak National Bank bonds that have been sold on foreign financial markets. TASR did not report the reason for the lowered rating, but observers believe the political situation in the country was a factor. PB




UN VOTES ARMS EMBARGO ON BELGRADE

The UN Security Council on 31 March voted 14 to zero with China abstaining to place an arms embargo on President Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia until his government launches unconditional talks with Kosovar representatives on the province's political status. Resolution 1160 "expresses support for an enhanced status for Kosovo that would include a substantially greater degree of autonomy and meaningful self-administration." The council also "calls upon the Kosovar Albanian leadership to condemn all terrorist action." Russian delegate Yurii Fedotov said his country's decision to back the measure was "extremely difficult for Russia." U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson said that "the international community will not tolerate violence and ethnic cleansing in the region of the former Yugoslavia. We must avoid the mistakes of the past, when the international community waited too long before taking decisive action." PM

MONTENEGRO WANTS INTERNATIONAL ROLE IN KOSOVO

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told a French parliamentary delegation in Podgorica on 31 March that international "assistance is necessary for promoting a dialogue and defining the solution that would be acceptable for all sides involved." He added that "the only acceptable solution for Kosovo is the one that defines its status within the borders of Serbia and Yugoslavia." Djukanovic stressed that a further escalation of the [Kosovo] problem will undoubtedly lead to its spreading [throughout] the whole region." Belgrade's rejects international involvement in the Kosovo question on the grounds that the province's political status is a purely internal matter. Meanwhile in the Serbian capital, the government called on Kosovar leaders to take part in talks on 7 April in Pristina. The statement added that the situation in Kosovo is becoming calmer and praised the police "for successfully carrying out their functions," RFE/RL reported. PM

GREECE SEEKS EUROPEAN, NOT U.S., INVOLVEMENT

Karolos Papoulias, who heads the Greek parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, said in Tirana on 31 March that Kosovo is a European problem. He added that "it would be painful to see that the EU was powerless to intervene [to solve] its own [European] problem," as was the case in Bosnia. Papoulias stressed "that Europe's language is much more understandable for the sides in the conflict than the U.S. language, which is the language of force." PM

ALBANIAN PREMIER FAVORS AUTONOMY FOR KOSOVO

Fatos Nano told the parliament's Foreign Relations Committee on 31 March that the government urges Belgrade to grant Kosovo broad autonomy, "Koha Jone" reported. He added that the government hopes the Contact Group will take tough measures against Belgrade if Milosevic does not comply with the international community's latest demands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1998). The Republican Party's Sabri Godo, who heads the committee, demanded that the government call on NATO "to intervene in Kosovo in order to prevent violence," "Shekulli" reported. The alliance had turned down Tirana's previous request for NATO troops to patrol its own border with Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). FS

UCK RETURNING IN FORCE?

Armed and often uniformed soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) have "suddenly" appeared in large numbers around several towns in Kosovo, Reuters reported from Djakovica on 31 March. The agency added that "finding a uniformed [UCK] member with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a tactical radio is no more difficult than driving to an area known for its separatist tendencies and pulling off the main road. If you don't find the [UCK], they soon find you." PM

SERBS PROTEST RETURN OF ALBANIAN INSTITUTE

Serbian students and faculty left the premises of the Albanian Studies Institute in Pristina on 31 March, taking furniture and files with them. They left behind posters protesting the recent agreement between Belgrade and the Kosovar leadership, which restores Albanian-language education in government school buildings in stages between 31 March and 30 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1998). The institute, which the Serbian authorities in the 1980s regarded as a center of Albanian nationalism, is the first building to be returned to Albanian students and faculty. Serbian student spokesmen said they fear that ethnic Albanians will dominate Pristina University as a result of the agreement and that Serbs will have no future there. PM

CROATIA APPROVES REFUGEE PLAN

The government has agreed on a package of measures aimed at facilitating the return of refugees to their former homes in Croatia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb on 31 March . Croatian diplomatic missions abroad will start issuing travel documents to refugees to enable them to travel to Croatia. This measure ends a catch-22 situation: refugees previously had to go to Croatia to pick up their documents but could not cross the border without those very documents. The government announced in a statement that 24,000 refugees in Yugoslavia and 3,500 in the Republika Srpska want to go home and that Zagreb has signed agreements with Belgrade and Banja Luka dealing with the two-way return of refugees. The government also said that it has asked Belgrade for permission to open consulates in Subotica and Kotor. PM

BOSNIAN MUSLIM HOMES ATTACKED

International police spokesmen said in Mostar on 31 March that nine homes belonging to Muslims were mined, destroyed, or burned down from 26-28 March in the Croatian-controlled town of Stolac. In recent weeks, representatives of the international community sacked the town's mayor and police chief on the grounds that they encouraged attacks on Muslims and their property. PM

MONTENEGRO OFFERS BOSNIA PORT

Jusuf Kalomperovic, who is Montenegro's minister for shipping and communications, told Bosnian Co-Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic in Sarajevo on 31 March that Montenegro will allow Bosnia to use the port of Bar. Bosnia and Croatia have been arguing for years over Bosnia's continued use of the Croatian port of Ploce, which is Bosnia's natural outlet to the sea. Meanwhile in Bari, Italy, police spokesmen said on 1 April that they have arrested Vaso Baosic, the police chief of Bar, on the suspicion that he is sheltering Italian Mafiosi in Bar. PM

MONTENEGRO'S ALBANIANS GET FIRST MAGAZINE

Mustafa Canka of the Liberal Alliance party launched the publication in Ulcinj on 31 March of the bi-monthly news magazine "Liberal," which is Montenegro's first Albanian-language magazine. Some 45,000 of Montenegro's 630,000 people are ethnic Albanians, who live primarily in the southwestern border region with Albania. PM

GREECE EXPELS THOUSANDS OF ALBANIANS

Greek police have expelled some 3,000 Albanian illegal immigrants during the past week, "Koha Jone" reported on 1 April. The newspaper adds that the expulsions are part of an apparently country-wide campaign that started in mid-March and has affected more than 5,000 people. The maximum number of returning Albanians on a single day at the Kakavia border crossing reached 800 on 31 March. FS

PARTY LEADERS MEET WITH ROMANIAN PRESIDENT

The leaders of several political parties held talks with Emil Constantinescu on 31 March to discuss the formation of a new government, Rompres reported. It was agreed at the talks that the premier-designate will meet with representatives from the coalition parties to discuss forming the new cabinet. It was also agreed that Petre Roman's Democratic Party should rejoin the governing coalition. The other participants in the talks with Constantinescu were Ion Diaconescu (National Peasant Party Christian Democracy), Mircea Ionescu-Quintus (National Liberal Party), Varujan Vosganian (Romanian Alternative Party), Sergiu Cunescu (Social Democratic Party), Bella Marko (Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania), and former President Ion Iliescu (Party of Social Democracy in Romania). Arguing that forming a new coalition government will not solve the country's problems, Ionescu called for fresh elections to be held. PB

ROMANIAN MEDIA DISCUSSES POTENTIAL PREMIERS

Four people have been named in the press as potential candidates to replace Victor Ciorbea, who resigned on 30 March. Newspapers named economist Radu Vasile and Economy Minister Mircea Ciumara, both members of the National Peasant Party Christian Democracy, as favorites. National Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu and Sorin Dimitriu, the head of the state privatization agency, are also considered possible candidates. Financial markets and the national currency have remained stable in the wake of Ciorbea's resignation. Meanwhile, Bucharest Deputy Mayor Viorel Lis said on 31 March that a mayoral election could be held as early as this summer to find a successor to Ciorbea, who also resigned his mayorship. PB

MOLDOVAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS ECONOMY IMPROVING

Ion Ciubuc told trade union leaders that an increase in industrial output could be the cornerstone of economic improvements this year, Infotag reported on 31 March. Ciubuc told leaders from the Moldovan Trade Union Federation that industrial output from January to March was 6-7 percent higher than the previous year. He said this could create a solid base for an improved economy in 1998. Ciubuc also said the government is preparing an economic package that will aim to pay pension and social payment arrears, which, he said, have reached 500 million lei ($1,059,322). PB




THE DEMISE OF TURKISH COFFEE?


by Patrick Moore with Lowell Bezanis, Liz Fuller, and Fabian Schmidt

Turkish coffee, once an integral part of daily life throughout the former Ottoman Empire, is rapidly disappearing from many tables across the region. The arrival of Italian espresso machines in recent years has begun to transform a key element of popular culture in countries ranging from the former Yugoslavia to the republics of the Transcaucasus.

One of the great culinary joys of visiting the Balkans for many foreign travelers has long been--together with grilled and roasted meats, baked peppers, and salty sheep's cheese--the once ubiquitous Turkish coffee. The drink is made by placing fine, powdered coffee into a brass or copper pot called a "dzezva" in Serbo-Croatian. Boiling water is added, and the mixture is boiled up. The technique is to repeatedly allow the brew to boil, sink back down, and then boil again. The product, which some say should take at least 15 minutes to prepare, is then poured from the dzezva into small round cups without handles, known in Serbo-Croat as "fildzani." It is served with a glass of water to offset the sweetness of the drink and to wash down the inevitable coffee grounds.

In Bosnia, some say there is an ethnic dimension to preparing the coffee. Serbs, like Albanians and Greeks, mix sugar into the ground coffee and cook the sugar as part of the brew. Croats prefer to add sugar at the table, as is the custom in drinking all kinds of coffee in Central Europe. Muslims, for their part, generally sip the coffee with a piece of Turkish delight, or "lokum," placed in their mouths.

However it is prepared, Turkish coffee has a social dimension that is unmistakably linked to the traditional, unhurried pace of life throughout the former Ottoman Empire. Serbs sometimes joke that the standard student breakfast consists of Turkish coffee, two cigarettes, and a copy of the thick Belgrade daily "Politika." Business throughout the Balkans is done and social ties cultivated over slowly sipped cups of the thick liquid that a Western writer once described as "black as night and sweet as sin."

All this, however, seems to be changing. Already in the 1970s, more expensive hotels and coffee shops in Croatia and Slovenia began phasing out Turkish coffee in favor of Italian espresso. The bulwark of traditional coffee culture in much of the former Yugoslavia remained the local coffee house, in which men in dark berets would sit amid clouds of smoke under the watchful gaze of a black-and-white photograph of Marshal Josip Broz Tito. But such coffee houses are rapidly disappearing in favor of chic, modern establishments with Western-type furnishings.

There are two reasons for the change. First, once a cafe owner has made the basic investment of buying an espresso machine, he or she faces a far less labor-intensive operation in serving up Italian coffee all day long than is the case in preparing its Turkish counterpart. Second, many people in the region--especially those who are young and/or wish to project the image of being cosmopolitan or upwardly mobile--regard drinking espresso as stylish and modern. Such people also regard sipping Turkish coffee as something for old men sitting under the Tito picture.

Consequently, throughout much of the Balkans, one must now go to a large restaurant, traditional coffee house, or private home to find a dzezva full of the steaming, potent black brew. One cafe-owner in the Albanian town of Kruja tries to steer a middle path between coffee cultures by shooting boiling water from an Italian machine into each waiting dzezva and then continuing the Turkish coffee-brewing procedure in the traditional way.

But the pattern of change in coffee-drinking habits varies from place to place. It takes skill to find Turkish coffee in central Sofia, Bulgaria, where fildzani seem to have disappeared altogether in favor of cups with handles. Greeks, however, religiously continue to drink their traditional brew--possibly more so per capita than their Turkish counterparts--but have dubbed it "Greek coffee," at least since 1974, when Turkey intervened on Cyprus.

In Turkey, locally grown tea replaced highly taxed coffee decades ago as the beverage over which political and economic deals are negotiated. Last year, the "Turkish Daily News" bewailed the fact that, on the occasions when Turks do still drink coffee, they increasingly choose the instantly soluble, rather than the traditionally brewed variety.

East of the Black Sea, so-called "oriental coffee" is widely available in Tbilisi cafes. And the art of predicting the future by deciphering the coffee grounds is still practiced there. But the real last bastion of oriental coffee may well be Armenia, where it is offered at all official meetings and where a wide selection of traditional brass coffee mills is available at Yerevan's weekend flea market. Lowell Bezanis is a Washington-based specialist on Turkey and Central Asia.


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